By Bob Elliott
PHOENIX _ What more could you want for a birthday present?
Farhan Zaidi attended the general managers meeting at the Arizona Biltmore Tuesday on his 38th birthday … as GM of the Los Angeles Dodgers one of the legendary franchises in the industry.
Sudbury born, raised in the Phillipines, where he cheered for the Blue Jays, he attended MIT, worked for three years, went to school at UC Berkeley and was hired in 2004 by Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane.
It’s not like Zaidi came out of the blue — although he’s not a household word in Canadian households yet. In 2013, he ranked 10th on the sveenth annual Canadian Baseball Network’s top 100 most influential Canadians in baseball, checking in at No. 10, up from 16th. Previously he has ranked 27th in 2011,, 25th and 25th.
What if someone told him 10 years ago he’d celebrate his 38th birthday at the GM’s meetings as GM of the famed Dodgers?
“I would have thought it was a joke,” said Zaidi sipping a Diet Coke, light on the ice. “I think back to my interview with Billy … I was giddy walking out of the office.”
Zaidi phoned a family member and told him even if he didn’t get the job it had been a wonderful experience: “Billy was a GM of some renown then, for me as a fan to get to walk into his office … they could have auctioned off the experience to a charity and it would have done well.”
“To be hired out of grad school to work for Billy Beane and the A’s was surreal,” he says sounding as if he still has a fan’s passion and enthusiasm. He recalls sitting in his office at Berkeley when Beane phoned offering him the job as he was making out his To Do list of daily chores for the day.
He wrote Beane’s cell phone number on the To Do list index card and for 10 years the card hung on his wall in his Oakland office.
Zaidi is the only sixth Canadian to serve as a GM joining Montrealer Alex Anthopoulos of the Blue Jays and Milwaukee Brewers Doug Melvin of Chatham, Ont. as current Canadian-born GMs.
The other Canadians to hold the position are George Selkirk of Huntville, Ont. with the Washington Senators; Murray Cook of Sackville, N.B. with the New York Yankees, Montreal Expos and Cincinnati Reds and Toronto’s Gord Ash with the Jays. Zaidi is the first of Pakistani descent.
He carries a Canadian passport and considers himself Canadian, so even though he only lived in Sudbury for three years before his father left the International Nickel Company to work for the Asian Development Bank as a project manager.
“Being Canadian gives me a lot of pride,” said Zaidi. “You want everything to be about the team, what we are trying to accomplish. I appreciate that this story resonates with Canadians. It’s flattering.”
In Manilla, he attended the International School until graduation and was able to watch baseball live from the de-scrambled TV signal from U.S. Military bases, the one or two games a week CNN or NHK network. He played Little League and in 1984 his favorite team was the Blue Jays with Jesse Barfield, Tony Fernandez and George Bell.
Zaidi was in grade 11 when he watched Joe Carter hit his game-winning walk-off homer at 11:30 AM.
“That was life: watching America sports in the mornings, like living on the west coast you get up Sunday mornings and watching NFL games,” Zaidi said.
Beane’s best pal was J.P. Ricciardi, the Jays GM a decade ago. So, it followed that at events like this it would be “reservations for four, please.” Zaidi would accompany Beane and Anthopoulos would be with Ricciardi, who now works for the New York Mets. Says Zaidi “Alex is a man I consider one of my best friends in the game.”
The first time Zaidi attended the GMs winter meetings was in Palm Springs, Calif. in 2005. He said he was trying not to knock over furniture and cause a scene.
“I remember walking down this hallway looking for a conference room and David Dombrowksi coming in the other direction,” said Zaidi who recalled the Detroit Tigers stopping, introducing himself and welcoming him to baseball.
“It would have been easy for him to walk right past me,” Zaidi said. “I had a flashback to that day this morning.”
And at the meetings Dombrowski and Zaidi occupied two of the 30 GM chairs in the room.
Asked if he felt a greater amount of pressure to do something this off-season Alex Anthopolous raised his arms, cupped his hands behind his head and quoted business magnate Warren Buffett.
“Someone was asked (Buffett) when you are hiring someone, what qualities do you look for? His answer was you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy,” said the Blue Jays general manager. “Because if you don’t have the first quality all you are doing is hiring a fast thief.”
Anthopoulos said he asked a respected friend to define integrity?
“It’s doing what’s best for the organization … you can’t get caught up worrying about yourself.”